An obnoxious beam of light perforated the dry, dusty dark, translucent fingers of light fumbling over burnt play mats and wooden toys: simple wind-up toys melted and disfigured by a burnt-out fire. The frilly petticoats of little, cotton dolls were singed beyond repair. Cheap, plastic action figures had been curled into a praying position by a burst of intense heat. Grey and black ashes made a shifting carpet of despair. The light, brisk morning air breezed through the holes in the roof of the burnt-out nursery.
Bodies had been strung nonchalantly from the buckling ceiling of the single storey building, the beams of which were melted and twisted but remained the only things keeping the building together. The bodies, some of which were burnt, most of which were not, were fresh-looking. Some wore biker gear, some did not. Their heads were crushed or missing or pulled apart like soft pizza dough.
The bodies swayed in the delicate breeze, suspended by their feet from the steel beams in the ceiling. Exposed by the collapsing asbestos tiles, they were tied there with skipping ropes and belts and ties and anything on hand. Clear tape and shoe laces worked well, despite the noisy crinkling sounds they made as the bodies swung.
As the bodies parted, swinging free, a gargantuan, inhuman figure appeared. It hunched over a toybox turned altar.
Whispering, whispering, hoarse whispering; a sudden shrill whistling sound, followed by sharp clap, and a low rumbling shook the foundations of the building, tossing up sickly plumes of grey and black dust and ash.
“It’s time, Lamby,” Jeff said as he picked up the plush lamb from the toybox altar and shoved it gracelessly into his fanny pack. Zipping it up litigiously, he walked out of the crestfallen building.
TJ lay on his back on the floor of his living room, his eyes open but seeing nothing. The room spun around and he felt black wings circling, the ceiling fan getting closer and closer and he couldn’t move. He was frozen in place, a three-hundred-pound greasy paperweight staring into nothing.
“TJ, can you hear me? We don’t have time for this.” Sunday knelt at his side, pushing the coffee table off at a jaunty angle; it made a loud screeching noise. “TJ, I need you to wake up. I need you.” She took one of his sweaty hands and cupped it in her cold palms. She placed it on her chest and delicately made him probe her humble breast with his chubby digits. “Shit, if that didn’t work…” she said as she dropped his meaty forearm onto the carpet.
She collapsed into a sitting position next to him and sighed, exasperated. “I didn’t tell you anything about myself.” She sighed again and tossed wisps of green hair out of her glowing face. “I know this isn’t the best time.”
She turned around on the floor to sit beside him, lifting her knees up to rest her forearms and cradle her head as she spoke. “But I get it, it hurts. I know that more than anyone. Losing someone sucks. Fuck, that sounded dumb.” She laughed at herself as she sniffed back a few tears.
“It’s hard to believe, but I came from a town just like this. It wasn’t exactly like this but close enough. I was pretty normal, went to school most of the time, went for walks, took out the garbage.
She paused and looked out of the windows before continuing to talk to herself wistfully. My parents died when I was really young. Me and my brother spent most of our childhood in foster care. Oh, yeah - forgot to mention - I have an older brother, Adam, Adam Evens.” She coughed or laughed or both and said “That’s my last name. Sunday Evens, pleased to meet you.” She smiled.
“He pretty much raised me, taught me how to fight. Don’t know who taught him.” She smirked. “Taught me how to fix cars. I’m pretty handy with a blowtorch. That was the first job he got: worked in a body shop as, like, an apprentice to this skeezy old fuck who was always trying to pick me up. I was, like, fourteen. He wasn’t a bad old guy, just kind of a freak.” She looked straight at the wall.
“Aren’t we all? It was hard, but we made it. We were something close to happy. Didn’t have anyone to tell us to get up or go to bed or do our homework, but we did it. We had to. We were all we had in the world, an island in a sea of shit.” She slid her forearms off her knees putting her hands on the side of her calves and began to squeeze them tight.
“Then all this shit happened, exactly like this. The zombies, then those weirdos appeared, started rounding people up. They took him. He tried to protect me; he died.” She squeezed her calves even harder, digging her fingers into her legs.
“I swore, I fucking swore, to God or Odin, or Buddha or whoever, that I would never, NEVER let anyone protect me ever again!” She bit her lip and kept her eyes locked forward. Her heart started to race her breath became heavy and laboured. “I would use people, I would become a freak, I would kill, but I would never let anyone die to protect me.”
She turned to TJ who hadn’t moved an inch other than in taking deep, rhythmic breaths. “Didn’t hear a word I said, huh?” She sighed.
Jeffrey approached his box. Manna from heaven, a small metal shipping container, was embedded about twelve inches into some soft earth, probably intended as a child’s play area, in the empty lot in front of the nursery.
As he got closer the box began to open with a whirring of cogs and a hissing of pneumatic pistons. The helicopter noises were still thick overhead. It was hard to hear anything over the casual smattering of explosions all over town. The other boxes were proving to be excellent party favours.
That was why it was so easy for the chimera to get the jump on him. A sudden tug took his feet out from under him. He fell face first into his box before he was towed across the lawn, dragging a chain that had kept the box aloft.
A creature, about ten feet in height, reeled Jeff in like a guppy. Jeff clawed at the soft, clumpy earth of the playground. Barbed tentacles stabbed and squeezed his tree trunk leg. Blood and an unusual puss formed around the tentacle.
The creature looked like a cross between Cthulhu and a Chihuahua. It had four legs, like a dog, and a faintly canine skull, but its head and mouth opened up like a flower, revealing a maw of oscillating teeth, gums and tongue, like squamous tentacles. Its tail split into nine whipping, barbed, stygian tendrils. They slashed around as if they were sentient, snapping and lapping the air, looking for more meat. Its body was slaked in something that looked like fur, but on closer inspection was made up of sharp, effulgent scales.
Jeff looked around for something to grab onto, finding only clods of dirt and grass. He doubted his bare hands would be effective against something so blasphemous. He saw the box out of the corner of his eye. His fall had knocked it over and its contents had been scattered, but something stood out to him: it looked like a construction hammer sticking out of the sandpit. It had a large, rectangular hammer side and a spiky pick side for prying.
Remembering the piece of metal in his other hand he swung the heavy-duty chain. It landed a few feet short of the sand pit. He couldn’t get the leverage he needed on his back; it was a hard-enough shot on your feet. In a tantrum, he lashed out with the chain at the eldritch creature. The pain from the barbs in his legs was subsiding, giving way to a cool, numbing sensation as he felt all feeling leaving his extremity.
The chain snapped near the creature’s head. The beast made a hideous screeching sound as if frightened. Another black, veiny, barbed tentacle pinned Jeffrey’s arm, wrapping around its mighty bulk and squeezing it like a python, stopping all the flow of blood. The tendril pushed through the leather of his custom jacket.
Jeffrey strained against the swarthy tentacle, but his arm was starting to feel numb and lifeless and his other hand was too busy trying to keep him on the ground to attempt to pry his arm free. Seeing no other recourse, Jeff let go of the ground and was whipped up into the air. With his free hand, he grabbed the tentacle and took a whopper size bite out of the thick tenebrous flesh. The creature screamed and recoiled all its tentacles. Jeffrey plummeted, like a comet, into the soft earth of the playground.
He rose, the chain still in his hand. The blood started to rush back into his limbs, the dull numbing sensation in his legs beginning to wear thin.
He lumbered towards the sandpit and dug the large hammer out of the sand. Inspecting it, he noticed a hole in the bottom of the handle, for hanging it up on industrial racks. He connected the chain to the base of the hammer and wrapped the other end around his hand. Taking it in both hands, it was a beast of tool, heavy even to this monster of a man who towered somewhere in the vicinity of seven feet, a true freak of nature.
Distracted as he was, he failed to notice the ten-foot creature that had been in front of him was now nowhere to be found and couldn’t be heard. Jeffrey looked around, confused at first, until a large, black tentacle latched onto his free hand, pulling him down towards the sandpit. Another tentacle shot out from underneath the sand and latched onto his leg. They started pulling him towards the ground. The sand shifted and another tentacle began snaking its way out of the sand. It blinked. A gibbous orange eye opened. Unlike a human eye, it didn’t look moist and vulnerable. In fact, quite the opposite was true, it looked as barbed as the rest of the creature’s body.
It looked around furtively before getting smooshed into oblivion by a large masonry hammer: the spiked end, to be exact. The tentacle tore away from the hammer, leaving a trail of green and orange gunk. The other tentacles recoiled like pieces of cut away rigging on a theatrical stage.
The creature emerged. It crashed through a weakened wall in the side of the nursery and careened into Jeffrey at a monstrous gallop. Its maw-like mouth opened as if to devour this giant whole. Jeffrey was ready. He flung the hammer right into the maw of the unnameable creature’s mouth. Barbarous teeth snapped off, like glass, at the force of the impact.
Both hands still on the hammer, Jeffrey dug his heels in, churning up the soft earth of the playground. The chimera fought back, stunned from the metal shot to its chops. Wrapping its remaining tentacles around the handle of the hammer, it tried to pry it free, instigating a death grip tug of war between two inhumane creatures.
Jeffrey strained against the monster, pulling it left and right and snapping more and more of its teeth off. It cried out it pain as it tried to twist the thick piece of metal out of its mouth. Jeffrey could feel the bones in his mighty arms bending under the pressure; one of them had to give way.
If someone were to stumble upon the scene they might think they were in Ancient Greece watching Heracles tussling with a hydra in the front play area of a dilapidated nursery. Jeffrey pulled back a little against the pressure. It reared, like a giant dog preparing to hump his leg to death. As a result, its soft underbelly was exposed. Jeffrey kneed it as hard as he could, over and over, in what he thought could be its balls.
The creature started coughing up blood and bone fragments, arms, clothes and the tip of what looked like a chrome upright vacuum cleaner.
A large, metal roll top door opened. A group of bikers hustled through, carrying large black duffel bags. The bags clinked with satisfying metal noises. The large halogen lights of the garage flickered lazily as they woke. There were few windows in the sheet metal garage. A single dingy skylight birthed an alien ray of light in the middle of the floor. They flung the heavy black duffel bags onto a couple of metalwork tables, pushing aside the greasy-looking tools, and sending them clanging to the concrete floor.
“We got as much as we could, boss. We’re gonna fuck shit up for real now; we’re ready.”
“Yeah, it’s not gonna be like last time.”
Mojang breezed out of his little cubby hole office. He idly chewed a tough-looking stick of jerky as he put on a studded leather riding jacket. The jerky stuck out of his mouth like a stogie.
His eager men opened the bags, beaming at their hun master. He paused and ripped a chunk off his jerky, wearing an annoyed, vacant expression.
“Oh, right!” The chubby biker in the front said as he took his weight off one of the bags. He began to hastily unzip it and display its contents rather clumsily on the metal tables, knocking a half-empty beer bottle on its side as he did so. “Oh, shit,” he said as he scrambled for it. “Sorry, sorry, sorry!” he said as he finally started to lay out mean-looking small arms on the now damp worktable.
It was all your standard fare from a seventies exploitation film: nine mils, Uzis, revolvers, a grenade launcher, some pipe bombs, grenades, a sawn-off shotgun, SMGs, and pistols of all stripes and calibres. “Now this is just the shit we rounded up from around town: nothing too flashy, but Martinez, he scored big. We got military grade assault rifles, riot shotguns, anti-personnel rounds, smoke grenades, even body armour - the whole nine yards. That tip we got was good. We got enough shit to start World War T’ree!” the husky man said, almost out of breath.
“Err, we thought he was with you,” the chubby biker said. He looked around, flinging sweat off his pot marked nose.
Mojang nodded. He grinned as he admired the wood inlayed single shot grenade launcher. He broke it open to look down the barrel before snapping it closed again.
“Fuck it, it doesn’t matter. Alright, everyone get your shit. Rack’em up! World War fucking Three starts now!”
The pre-war revelry was cut short by an obnoxious metal grating sound. The large roll top door of the garage slammed shut, choking out all the natural light. The room was plunged into semi-darkness but for a few shreds of light from the skylight. There was a heavy fumbling, clicking noise on the other side of the door.
“What the fuck? Who closed the door?” a biker wearing sunglasses said.
Another younger biker approached the roll top door and yanked at it, but it wouldn’t move.
“What the fuck? It’s locked!”
“Check the business entrance!” the pudgy biker spat over his Mario moustache. He was sweating even more now.
The young lad ran to the business entrance. After a brief rattling of the heavy metal door he came back and shrugged theatrically.
“It’s locked too!”
“What the fuck?” The fat guy looked around, projectile sweating hither and thither. The other men looked at Mojang.
Mojang breathed in and sighed. A shrill electric shock travelled up his spine. “We’re being fucked!”
“Huh?” the tubby biker said, sweating harder than before.
The entire biker clan was in the garage. They were around twenty strong. The group that had just come in were the only ones awake. The rest were asleep, waiting for the war to begin, in drunken stupors on dirty bed rolls. Someone had herded them in here like cattle. “Wake the fuck up! We’re being fucked!” the fat biker shrieked as he kicked a passed-out Chong lookalike in the guts.
The others were nervously racking shotguns, fumbling with clips on expensive-looking European assault rifles, and hastily putting on body armour that didn’t fit and shoving as much ammo as they could into their leather pants.
Mojang shushed them as he heard a faint whistling sound. It got closer and louder and the garage took on the mystique of a bomb shelter. The bikers, like kids in the Blitz, cowered in the underground, clutching wind-up toys instead of guns.
A sudden apocalyptic crashing noise hit them. It shook the large metal building as if it was a steel worker’s lunchbox falling from the empire state building. The small skylight was blown out. Glass and shards of wood and thin metal shrapnel rained down on the degenerates sleeping off the night of hedonism.
A heavy metal-on-concrete sound sent a ringing noise through every ear. Grey dust plumed and filled the dank room. As the dust cleared, they saw something that looked like a small industrial fridge sitting snugly in the shell of a ratrod. The car looked like it had been a Beetle before some blowtorch monkey had started taking liberties. The body of the economical vehicle had been sheered in half by the heavy metal crate. The way it had fallen reminded some addled minds of the phonebooth from ‘Bill and Ted’ because it had remained upright, as if it had been put there by an ancient alien for some obtuse purpose beyond mere mortal understanding.
The next scene wasn’t any less derivative; the bikers surrounded the small box as if it was the obelisk from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.
“What the fuck?”
“What, the fuck?
“The fuck is that?”
“No one told us about this.”
“What is this shit?”
Mojang didn’t say a word, just mouthed, “The fuck?” as he loaded an angry-looking grenade, with shark teeth drawn on it, into his grenade launcher. He closed it with a sexy snapping sound.
The box itself was no taller than a phone booth and not particularly wide. The bikers crowded around as if it was about to give a presidential address. It wore the remnants of the red Beetle like a feather boa with tacky orange flames running up the sides.
“I don’t see any seams,” the fat biker said as he leant against the frame of the Beetle and looked inside. “How the fuck do we open it?” He looked back at Mojang. A sharp hissing sound set his lizard brain on its tip toes. If he’d had one he’d have clutched a ramshackle spear as he fell on his ass, all kinds of Neolithic chemicals rushing around his noodle.
The front of the box melted away, falling into hexagonal, matte grey shapes before becoming translucent. After rubbing his eyes like a comic book character, the fat biker stood up to get a better look inside.
All he could see through the frame of the of the Beetle were tubes and wires.
As the adrenaline subsided he could make it out a little clearer.
“WHAT THE FUCK IS IT?” Mojang bellowed, causing the fat biker to swallow the sweat on his top lip. He straining to make sense of what he was seeing, pulling his mind out of the comic books.
“It’s… it’s a, a kid.”
“You remind me of him. I mean, you don’t look anything like him, or sound like him, but you do. Something in the way you looked at me, I can’t describe it.” Sunday scooped a tear out of her eye, with a little mascara gunk, and clicked her knees as she stood. She began to stretch out the melancholia that had niggled its way into her joints.
She clicked her knuckles and sniffed the tears back into that box she built inside herself. “Fuck, I’m such a pussy. I’m gonna get something to drink. You want something?” TJ remained completely motionless, transfixed by the ceiling fan. “Oh yeah, almost forgot. Gimme a sec.”
She twirled the teaspoon distantly, staring into the inky black instant coffee as it swirled in the ‘My Little Pony’ mug she’d found in the cupboard. The tinkling sound of the spoon put her in a trance-like state. Trying to make sense of this tranquil feeling, surrounded by all this death, she imagined herself as an island in a sea of corpses. She was fighting through death, doing the back stroke.
She hugged her coffee close to her slim breast as she waifed back into the living room. She felt out of place, as if the room was a matchbox some giant child had picked up and was about to shake. A low rumble. The room didn’t look right. The coffee table shook. The bowl of fruit fell on the floor and a large, dry-looking apple rolled towards Sunday’s feet. She felt as if, were she to look out the window, she would see nothing but sky, as if she had been picked by the eye of a tornado, like in ‘The Wizard of Oz’. It felt unreal.
A cacophony of crashing glass. The front windows of the living room popped, crushed by some unseen pressure.
Sunday threw the ‘My Little Pony’ mug away and dove behind the couch. “Shit!”
TJ didn’t move as glass and a vile wind rushed around him.
Fat, bulbous tentacles flopped into the room like an old man’s balls. They started slithering around, licking at the heady air. TJ still didn’t move and the tentacles rolled over him as if he was a fat, bearskin rug, covering him in some slimy green and orange gunk that seethed from its pores, cuts and scrapes.
Sunday crawled on her hands and feet, trying to navigate the mine field of broken glass. Shards of wood and drywall coated the living room floor. She scrabbled to the end of the couch but was cut off by a swarthy, grotesque tentacle. It shimmered, slick with translucent bile and sharp-looking barbs.
She caught herself before she could scream or make any noise of exhalation. Before her life could flash before her eyes, she felt a strange cold sensation on her leg. She was whipped into the air by her ankle, where she hung upside down, held by one of the thick, veiny tentacles. It undulated with a thick ichor.
The chimera stretched one of its bulbous tentacles through the window and the front door. its enormous strength tore the door off its hinges. Using the leverage, it strained against the foundations of the house, which gave a moaning, creaking sound. The front of the house was ripped away as if by a tornado. Sunday hung upside down, feeling as if she was caught up in that tornado. The amorphous creature poured its way through the hole. It whipped its many tentacles about its dog-like head. She scanned her mind, trying to think of something that would allow her to defy gravity. All she could think of was, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”